In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about how she and her husband coined the expression “funny feeling” to describe the little chill of jealousy they experience when one of their contemporaries has a breakthrough achievement.
I wrestled with a six-month-long bout of the funny feeling a couple of years ago after a close friend scored a book deal for her memoir. Part of me was truly, genuinely happy for her. But part of me — and the bigger part, I’m ashamed to say — was crippled with jealousy. I’d been slaving away over a novel that wasn’t close to being ready. I was envious that she’d managed to score a deal before I did.
I wanted to be happy for her. But I was too busy feeling diminished by her achievement. For a time, our friendship suffered because when we hung out, I had to work really hard to curb my feelings of professional insecurity.
I transformed her gain into my loss.
Chances are good you have also struggled with your own occasional or recurring episodes of the funny feeling.
If that’s the case, then brace yourself for some good news.
Jealousy can be a powerful teacher — if you handle it the right way.
Here are six steps to help you deal.
1. Quit judging yourself.
The only thing worse than feeling jealous is the way you beat yourself up for feeling jealous.
Or, as my mother used to tell me, two wrongs don’t make a right.
The worst thing about jealousy is the shame it causes.
You tell yourself you shouldn’t be jealous, but you feel like the green devil anyway. And this inner conflict makes you feel like a miserable, petty, underachieving fool.
If you wrestle with these feelings, know this: jealousy is an excruciating yet very human emotion.
Don’t beat yourself up over some sanctimonious sense of what you “should” or “should not” feel. Your feelings are your feelings. Own them and move on.
2. Recognize that jealousy is a signpost.
A wonderful coach and mentor once told me that rather than despise myself for being jealous, I should try to see the gift in it.
“Think of jealousy as information,” she told me. “It’s trying to tell you something about what you want.”
A few years ago I started to pay close attention to my jealousy. And I noticed that, without exception, I was jealous of friends and colleagues who didn’t hold back. I envied their courage, their audacity and their sheer willingness to go for it.
They were diving into the water while my tendency was to loiter at the edge and dip my toe in.
Once I recognized that, I was able to start looking for ways to practice courage and go after the things I wanted.
3. Take action.
Once you take time to reflect and figure out the lack in your life that is causing you to feel jealous over someone else’s goodies, make yourself a simple action plan to address the situation.
I’ve noticed that as long as I’m logging a thousand words a day on my book, and doing all I can to make it the best story I’m capable of producing, I’m fairly immune to professional jealousy. But the moment I fall off the 1000-words-a-day wagon, I am far more prone to episodes of the funny feeling.
Appropriate action is the antidote to jealousy. What does that look like for you?
I used to be so ashamed of my jealous tendencies that I did the one thing that was sure to prolong them: I suffered in silence.
Jealousy is a shame-related feeling. And there’s nothing shame loves more than silence.
One day I confided my jealous feelings to a good friend. And to my great surprise and relief, I found that she too dealt with her own bouts of jealousy from time to time.
It was a single, powerful conversation that I think back on any time I get the funny feeling: This is normal. Other people feel this way too. If they can handle it, so can I.
I used to think I could arm myself against jealousy by doing really awesome things. I thought I could build a wall of achievements that would shield me once and for all against my dreaded jealous feelings.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work. Not by a long shot.
At its root, jealousy is a feeling of inadequacy. It’s the feeling that you’re not quite good enough.
Yes, as I outline in Step 2, it’s a feeling that can contain useful information that can drive you to take some productive action.
But jealousy is also a signal that you need to practice better self-esteem. Self-esteem is not about feeling confident. (Although that’s great too!)
True self-esteem is the act of accepting yourself as you are. It’s about understanding that you don’t need to be extra-super-amazing to be worthy of happiness and acceptance.
You only have to be yourself. As you are. Right now.
6. Rinse and repeat.
Practicing these steps will not vaccinate you against jealousy.
Building your self-esteem and taking actions that move you toward your goals take continuous practice.
But if you do follow these steps, you’ll find your jealousy is no longer an enemy. She’s a tough, bruised friend who shows up with a chip on her shoulder but a powerful lesson you have to read between the lines to understand:
Accept yourself for the person you are.
Know that you are enough.
Dive into life.
Have the courage to open up and share.
Go for the things you want.